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Baroness Bennett Asks Oral Question In The House Of Lords With Help From Animal Free Research UK

Published on March 26, 2024

Natalie Bennett - Wikipedia

Baroness Natalie Bennett

On Monday 18th March, Baroness Natalie Bennett of Manor Castle used an oral question session in the House of Lords to call for decisive action to accelerate the transition to animal-free, human-specific medical research techniques. We were delighted to have provided detailed information about this subject both to Baroness Bennett, and to peers across the political spectrum with an interest in this area. Specifically, Baroness Bennett posed the below question on to the room of Peers.

“To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote the use of human-specific medical research techniques, such as “organ-on-a-chip” and computer modelling, in place of animal testing.”

What is the House of Lords?

Separate to the House of Commons where MPs usually sit, the House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. Its role it is to scrutinise legislation that the Government puts forward, help to shape policy, hold the Government to account and challenge their work, and investigate issues through inquiries. Made up of around 800 members, the Lords are a mixture of hereditary and appointed Peers, with the latter group usually selected for their expertise in a certain field. They use this knowledge to examine legislation and issues in detail.

In response, Viscount Camrose – the Science Minister who has responsibility for this topic in the House of Lords – re-affirmed the Government’s intention to double funding for non-animal alternatives and publish a roadmap to accelerate their development and use. Baroness Bennett used her follow-up question to stress the failure of animal tests in drug development, the potential of new technologies, and the advancements in this area made by other countries such as the USA and the Netherlands. “Do we not need to go much further and look towards legislative change and a much bigger injection of funds to see real progress if we are to be world-leading in the future in this biotechnology field?” she asked.

Viscount Camrose responded by welcoming new technology that could replace animals in toxicology testing, but disappointingly stated that whilst these were being validated, animal testing would have to continue. Yet, we know that animals are not good predictors of safety and efficacy of drugs in humans. A paper by liver-on-a-chip developer Emulate revealed that its technology correctly identified 87% of drugs that would cause liver injury in humans despite these drugs having already passed animal tests. Therefore, it is crucial that new technologies that are relevant to human biology are developed and validated as quickly as possible. Animal testing is not serving its intended purpose in this area and should not continue.

Organ-on-a-chip and Computer Modelling

Organ-on-a-chip and computer modelling were the two methods that Baroness Bennett mentioned in her question. Both are being developed and used by scientists all over the world and hold exciting potential for medical research. In fact, at our Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence in London, Dr Adrian Biddle is using computer modelling to study the spread of cancer. As for organ-chips, you can read all about our recent organ-on-a-chip masterclass, held in collaboration with AZAR Innovations, and about developer of organ-chips and winner of our inaugural Pioneer Award Dr Don Ingber at the links at the bottom of this page.

In the House of Lords, other Peers are permitted to ask follow-up questions on the same theme of the oral question. We were encouraged to hear such strong cross-party support for action to replace animals through contributions from Lord Clement Jones, Baroness Hayman, Lord Turnberg and Lord Kamall. Lord Turnberg spoke as past chairman of the NC3Rs (National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research), calling for ways to help authorities to relax about the requirement for animal tests. Lord Kamall and Baroness Hayman were internationally focussed with their questions, with Baroness Hayman highlighting the size of the global market and the potential for the UK to be a world-leader, and Lord Kamall encouraging collaboration with other countries to find alternatives to animal use. The Government’s responses to these questions aligned closely with previous responses on this subject, indicating a need for more progressive thought from them in this area.

In her concluding remarks, Baroness Bennett called for legislation to provide a framework for the UK to become a world leader in animal-free science. Here at Animal Free Research UK, we too have been calling for a ‘Human-Specific Technologies Act’ that will support the full replacement of animals in medical research with new technologies. It would set a target year for replacement and describe activities the Government must undertake to ensure it happens. Crucially, the law will get these vital commitments onto the statute books, so any future Government will be obliged to follow them. Whilst we haven’t yet received a commitment from the Government to introduce a law of this kind, we were extremely grateful to Baroness Bennett for directly asking for this, which means it will now be on formal record.

Asking a question in the House of Lords and other such activities raise the profile of animal-free medical research and play a crucial role in sustaining pressure on both Government and opposition parties to ensure we can make change happen. At Animal Free Research UK, our dedicated Public Affairs team work tirelessly to engage with parliamentarians on this topic, build up our supportive network of MPs and Peers, keep them informed of developments in the sector, and secure profile-raising initiatives like this one. We are always incredibly grateful to all of those who speak up for animals in the corridors of power, and extend our heartfelt thanks to Baroness Bennett for asking this important question in the House of Lords, as well as to the other Peers who made valuable contributions to the discussion.

Further Links: 

  • Transcript: You can read the full transcript of the session here
  • Computer Modelling: Read about our project at our Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence in London, where Dr Adrian Biddle is using computer modelling to study the spread of cancer
  • Organ-Chips: Read about our recent organ-on-a-chip masterclass, held in collaboration with AZAR Innovations, here
  • Organ-Chips: Read about developer of organ-chips and winner of our inaugural Pioneer Award Dr Don Ingber here

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